First Liberty Institute

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The First Liberty Institute is a Texas-based 501(c)(3) legal organization focused on religious liberty.[1] The organization has been tax exempt since 1973.[2]

The First Liberty Institute is an associate member of the State Policy Network (SPN), a group of right-wing think tanks and other politically-active nonprofits.

Ties to the State Policy Network

The First Liberty Institute is an associate member of the State Policy Network (SPN), a group of right-wing think tanks and other politically-active nonprofits. SPN is a web of right-wing “think tanks” and tax-exempt organizations in 50 states, Washington, D.C., Canada, and the United Kingdom. As of April 2023, SPN's membership totals 163. Today's SPN is the tip of the spear of far-right, nationally funded policy agenda in the states that undergirds extremists in the Republican Party. SPN Executive Director Tracie Sharp told the Wall Street Journal in 2017 that the revenue of the combined groups was some $80 million, but a 2022 analysis of SPN's main members IRS filings by the Center for Media and Democracy shows that the combined revenue is over $152 million.[3] Although SPN's member organizations claim to be nonpartisan and independent, the Center for Media and Democracy's in-depth investigation, "EXPOSED: The State Policy Network -- The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government," reveals that SPN and its member think tanks are major drivers of the right-wing, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)-backed corporate agenda in state houses nationwide, with deep ties to the Koch brothers and the national right-wing network of funders.[4]

In response to CMD's report, SPN Executive Director Tracie Sharp told national and statehouse reporters that SPN affiliates are "fiercely independent." Later the same week, however, The New Yorker's Jane Mayer caught Sharp in a contradiction. In her article, "Is IKEA the New Model for the Conservative Movement?," the Pulitzer-nominated reporter revealed that, in a recent meeting behind closed doors with the heads of SPN affiliates around the country, Sharp "compared the organization’s model to that of the giant global chain IKEA." She reportedly said that SPN "would provide 'the raw materials,' along with the 'services' needed to assemble the products. Rather than acting like passive customers who buy finished products, she wanted each state group to show the enterprise and creativity needed to assemble the parts in their home states. 'Pick what you need,' she said, 'and customize it for what works best for you.'" Not only that, but Sharp "also acknowledged privately to the members that the organization's often anonymous donors frequently shape the agenda. 'The grants are driven by donor intent,' she told the gathered think-tank heads. She added that, often, 'the donors have a very specific idea of what they want to happen.'"[5]

A set of coordinated fundraising proposals obtained and released by The Guardian in early December 2013 confirm many of these SPN members' intent to change state laws and policies, referring to "advancing model legislation" and "candidate briefings." These activities "arguably cross the line into lobbying," The Guardian notes.[6]

Ties to the Council for National Policy

First Liberty Institute's founding president and CEO, Kelly Shackelford, was a "Gold Circle" member of the Council for National Policy as of September 2020.

Council for National Policy

The Council for National Policy (CNP) is a secretive, Christian Right organization of funders and activists founded in 1981 by activist Morton Blackwell, commentator Paul Weyrich, direct-mail pioneer Richard Viguerie, right-wing activist Phyllis Schlafly and Left Behind author Tim LaHaye. Anne Nelson's book about CNP, Shadow Network: Media, Money, and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right, describes how the organization connects "the manpower and media of the Christian right with the finances of Western plutocrats and the strategy of right-wing Republican political operatives.”

CNP membership as of September 2020 is available here.


The First Liberty Institute was founded in 1997 by Kelly Shackelford, who remains its president and CEO. The organization has gone through several name changes in its history:[7]

  • 1997: Liberty Legal Institute, division of the Free Market Foundation
  • 2009: Liberty Institute
  • 2014: Military Division founded
  • 2016: First Liberty Institute

Core Financials


  • Total Revenue: $11,410,038
  • Total Expenses: $9,964,182
  • Net Assets: $7,031,224


  • Total Revenue: $10,099,518
  • Total Expenses: $8,483,098
  • Net Assets: $5,585,368


  • Total Revenue: $8,292,977
  • Total Expenses: $8,639,237
  • Net Assets: $3,968,947


  • Total Revenue: $8,241,792
  • Total Expenses: $8,062,474
  • Net Assets: $4,315,208


The First Liberty Institute is not required to disclose its funders but major foundation supporters can be found through their IRS filings. Here are some known contributors:

  • American Endowment Foundation: $81,858 (2016-2017)
  • Bailey Family Foundation: $6,900 (2016-2018)
  • Bank of America Charitable Foundation: $1,000 (2017-2018)
  • Boyd and Joan Kelley Charitable Foundation: $2,000 (2017)
  • Breunig Family Foundation: $1,500 (2016-2017)
  • Christian Community Foundation of Memphis and the Mid-South: $7,000 (2019)
  • Colegato Foundation: $3,000 (2017)
  • Community Foundations of Texas: $32,000 (2016-2018)
  • Dallas Foundation: $35,000 (2016-2017)
  • Dallas Seminary Foundation: $178,115 (2016-2018)
  • Dan and Martha Lou Beaird Foundation: $1,500 (2017-2018)
  • David and Lezlie Hudiburg Family Foundation: $20,000 (2017-2018)
  • Denman Family Foundation: $3,000 (2016, 2019)
  • Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift Fund: $985,916 (2017-2019)
  • Foundation for Church Growth: $1,000 (2019)
  • Fuller Foundation: $12,000 (2016-2017)
  • George E Seay III Foundation: $5,000 (2018)
  • Greater Houston Community Foundation: $211,000 (2017-2018)
  • Grojean Family Foundation: $10,000 (2018)
  • Hatton W Sumners Foundation For the Study and Teaching of Self-Government: $70,000 (2018-2019)
  • Horizon Foundation: $80,000 (2017-2018)
  • Jane and Bud Smith Family Foundation: $1,000 (2016)
  • JC Ferguson Foundation: $40,000 (2018-2019)
  • Jim Hicks Family Foundation: $15,000 (2016-2018)
  • John Stiger Ferry Charitable Foundation: $25,000 (2017)
  • JPMorgan Chase Foundation: $6,085 (2016-2019)
  • Manna International Charitable Foundation: $10,000 (2015)
  • Margaret CB and S Spencer N Brown Foundation: $2,600 (2016-2018)
  • Martin and Arlyn Shields Family Foundation: $5,000 (2019)
  • Mills Family Foundation: $2,500 (2018)
  • Mitchell Foundation: $100,000 (2017)
  • Morgan Stanley Global Impact Funding Trust: $5,000 (2018)
  • National Christian Charitable Foundation: $607,950(2016-2017)
  • National Philanthropic Trust: $207,000 (2017-2018)
  • Nicholas and Kathleen Mayall Memorial Foundation: $1,500 (2016-2018)
  • Paul and Barbara Flowers Foundation: $3,000 (2017-2018)
  • Psalms Foundation: $499,786 (2015-2019)
  • Quinn Family Foundation: $1,000 (2017)
  • Racho Santa Fe Foundation: $41,000 (2017-2019)
  • Raymond James Charitable Endowment Fund: $6,600 (2016)
  • Richard and Ellen Gilleland Foundation: $2,000 (2017-2018)
  • Rose Family Foundation: $10,000 (2018)
  • Schwab Charitable Fund: $627,250 (2016-2019)
  • Seegers Foundation: $10,000 (2018)
  • Servant Foundation: $11,050 (2019)
  • Shell Oil Company Foundation: $3,500 (2017)
  • Silicon Valley Community Foundation: $15,000 (2018)
  • Soonae Foundation: $15,000 (2018)
  • Stephen Philibosian Foundation: $2,000 (2016-2018)
  • Terrell and Patsy Small Family Foundation: $5,000 (2018)
  • Thomas R Leonard Foundation: $2,500 (2017)
  • United Charitable: $10,000 (2018)
  • William H and Ella W McMahan Foundation: $8,000 (2017-2018)



Executive Leadership

  • Kelly Shackelford, president, CEO, and chief counsel
  • David Holmes, exec. vice president, chief operating/financial officer
  • Jeff Mateer, exec. vice president, chief legal officer

Management Team

  • Lori Ross, senior director, human resources
  • Todd Winking, chief marketing officer

Legal Team

  • Hiram Sasser, executive general counsel
  • Michael Berry, general counsel
  • Stephanie Taub, senior counsel
  • David Hacker, director of litigation
  • Keisha Russell, counsel
  • Jeremy Dys, special counsel for litigation and communications
  • Justin Butterfield, deputy general counsel
  • Roger Byron, senior counsel
  • Lea Patterson, counsel
  • Becky Dummermuth, counsel
  • Lathan Watts, director of public affairs
  • Chris Freund, director of media relations
  • Lisa Holmes, head of client outreach
  • Joyce Flo, senior legal assistant
  • Carol Carrillo, paralegal/legal assistant
  • Jillian Barr, jr. legal assistant
  • Lindy Dolenz, client acquisition analyst
  • Madison Dale, media coordinator

Ministry Relations

  • Steve Purdum, senior director, ministry relations
  • Don Spak, ministry relations development officer
  • Clark Whitley, ministry relations development officer
  • Terry Yates, ministry relations development officer
  • Mike Cahill, ministry relations development officer
  • Nathan Shackelford, ministry relations development officer
  • Michaela Willows, development officer, emerging markets
  • Olga Figueroa, ministry relations specialist
  • Lila Prothro, donor relations coordinator
  • Cali Beyer, donor outreach specialist
  • Jan LaDue, senior events manager
  • April West, events director
  • Isabell Barineau, event specialist

Institute and Legacy Planning

  • Trey Dimsdale, director of strategic partnerships
  • Christine Norwood, program director of D.C. fellowship

Other Staff

  • Bryan Dempsey, senior director of marketing operations
  • Stuart Shepard, multimedia director
  • Alison Nevans, senior social media manager
  • Jorge Gomez, content strategist, senior writer
  • Kathy Cho, art director
  • Bryan Rogers, digital marketing director
  • Stan Corbett, digital marketing specialist
  • Jared Besse, digital marketing coordinator
  • AnnaGrace Stallings, marketing coordinator
  • Cory O'Neill, director of information technology
  • Lisa Patterson, assistant to the president
  • Josh Horton, systems administrator
  • Phillip Hawkins, senior director of data management
  • Larissa Daggett, senior program support specialist
  • Jill Hawkins, program support specialist
  • Andrew Boyechko, associate comptroller

Board of Directors

As of April 2019:[8]

  • Tim Dunn, vice chair, executive committee, board
  • Mark Cover, chair, executive committee, board
  • Al Angel, executive committee, board
  • James Robertson, executive committee, board
  • David Tauber, board
  • Deborah Muse Carlson, board
  • Dale Brown, executive committee, board, secretary
  • Jerry Brown, board
  • Paco Jordan, board
  • Kyle Stallings, board (also on boards of Texas Public Policy Foundation and Convention of States Action)
  • Jody Thornton, board
  • Ken Blackwell, board

Contact Information

First Liberty Institute
2001 West Plano Parkway, Suite 1600
Plano, TX 75075

Phone: (972) 941-4444
Phone (Media): (972) 941-4453
Email (Media):

Articles and Resources

Related SourceWatch

IRS Form 990 Filings






  1. First Liberty, About Us, organizational website, accessed March 29, 2021.
  2. Guidestar, First Liberty Institute, organizational website, accessed March 29, 2021.
  3. David Armiak, State Policy Network and Affiliates Raises $152 Million Annually to Push Right-Wing Policies, ExposedbyCMD, September 30, 2022.
  4. Rebekah Wilce, Center for Media and Democracy, EXPOSED: The State Policy Network -- The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government, organizational report, November 13, 2013.
  5. Jane Mayer, Is IKEA the New Model for the Conservative Movement?, The New Yorker, November 15, 2013.
  6. Ed Pilkington and Suzanne Goldenberg, State conservative groups plan US-wide assault on education, health and tax, The Guardian, December 5, 2013.
  7. First Liberty, History & Timeline, organizational website, accessed March 29, 2021.
  8. 8.0 8.1 First Liberty Institute, 2017 IRS Form 990, organizational tax filing, April 10, 2019.
  9. First Liberty Institute, 2016 IRS Form 990, organizational tax filing, March 9, 2018.
  10. First Liberty Institute, 2015 IRS Form 990, organizational tax filing, April 13, 2017.
  11. First Liberty Institute, 2014 IRS Form 990, organizational tax filing, February 11, 2016.